CNN is in the midst of a "sorry state of affairs" as the network faces looming leadership changes, struggling ratings and "the embarrassing launch of a suboptimal product," according to a former producer as watchdogs ponder if the new regime can restore the network's reputation. 

It’s a much-publicized period of transition for CNN, as parent company WarnerMedia will finally close a long-planned merger with Discovery in the next few weeks. Former CNN boss Jeff Zucker is long gone after being forced to step aside and his replacement, Chris Licht, isn’t expected to overtake control of the network until at least April 11. Meanwhile, high-powered Discovery CEO David Zaslav will oversee the new Warner Bros. Discovery, which will serve as CNN’s parent company once the merger is complete. 

Staffers are in the dark about what changes Licht and Zaslav will make, but the duo is expected to shake things up in some capacity. Far-left opinion programming that was prominent during the Zucker regime is likely to be tossed aside in favor of straight news, and some feel changes already need to be made to streaming service CNN+ because it’s "set up to fail" despite just launching this week. 

Former CNN president Jeff Zucker and incoming CNN boss Chris Licht. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)


A longtime media industry executive who previously worked as a producer for CNN told Fox News Digital that damage Zucker did to the brand is "deep and permanent" after the former executive pushed the once-non-partisan network to the left. 

"It’s a sorry state of affairs that when CNN should be shining for its Ukraine coverage, it instead is mired in the embarrassing launch of a suboptimal product like CNN+. Ratings are terrible despite the once-in-a-decade war news that CNN is supposedly made for. We’re now seeing the deep and permanent damage Jeff Zucker did to the once storied CNN brand when he pulled it far left and made it about himself vs Trump," the media insider said. "Viewers don’t turn to CNN for serious news anymore."

In an attempt to restore CNN’s credibility, Licht is expected to attempt to pivot back to straight news after Zucker allowed the network to take on a partisan, liberal approach that has struggled to attract viewers during the Biden era. 

On Tuesday, ratings for the first quarter of 2022 were unveiled and CNN’s most-watched show was "Anderson Cooper 360," which averaged one million nightly viewers to settle for No. 22 among cable news programs. 

CNN’s most-watched show during the first quarter was "Anderson Cooper 360," which averaged one million nightly viewers to settle for No. 22 among cable news programs.  (CNN)

CNN’s highest-rated show, "AC 360," finished behind 15 Fox News and six MSNBC offerings despite much of the final month of the quarter occurring as the network received a significant boost as Cooper reported from Ukraine.

In addition, CNN+ launched this week with little fanfare and is already being nitpicked for relying on paid subscribers when the basic cable version of CNN has a hard time attracting an audience. 


"CNN+ is currently set up to fail with a subscription-only revenue model," Progress Ventures founder Nick MacShane wrote in Adweek. "Licht should shift CNN+ to an ad-supported revenue model and build upon CNN’s strengths through strong relationships with top advertisers." 

The service was spearheaded by Zucker, who is no longer around to help promote it. It features content from such as "Jake Tapper’s Book Club," "Parental Guidance with Anderson Cooper" and a new program from far-left internet provocateur Rex Chapman. 

Incoming CNN boss Chris Licht co-created MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" and then built "CBS This Morning" before running "The Late Show." (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

"If Licht is committed to hard news and running a streaming business, he must rethink the subscription model (and some of CNN+’s content)," MacShane wrote. 

Insiders acknowledge there is a natural sense of anxiety whenever new leadership is set to take over an existing company, especially when the ousted boss – Zucker in this case – dreamed up the project in the first place. The former CNN producer added that Zucker spent an "obscene amount of money" on "something no one wants." 

The launch of CNN+ proved that the network can still create negative headlines despite Zucker being out of the picture, such as Vulture comparing the service to the disastrous Quibi and media critic Bill Goodykoontz mocking it for covering the infamous Will Smith Oscars slap with the same passion that the original network covered the Gulf War. 


On the first day the new service was active, a guest on the platform criticized CNN itself for drifting away from straight news when original CNN anchor Dave Walker joined the inaugural edition of Zucker loyalist Brian Stelter’s new streaming show and declared he isn’t thrilled with the current state of the network. 

"I used to anchor at CNN, and now I just yell at CNN," Walker said. "I think originally, it was pretty much 99 percent news content… as cable news evolved and more competition came into the fray, you had more opinion, particularly in the evening hours. And I would say that’s the major difference now. But maybe with the new ownership that may revert to more just basic news coverage." 

Brian Stelter

The premiere episode of Brian Stelter’s new streaming show featured original CNN anchor Dave Walker criticizing the network. (Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN)

Walker isn’t alone in publicly hoping CNN reverts to founder Ted Turner’s just-the-facts approach to news. Last year, Liberty Media chairman John Malone, who sits on the board of directors for Discovery Communications Inc. and is considered incredibly influential, made headlines during an appearance on CNBC when he declared CNN should revert to nonpartisan journalism. 

"I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing," Malone said. 

Licht appears to be on the same page, and told CNN staffers when he was announced as Zucker's replacement that he would "double-down on what's working well and quickly eliminate what's not" in a memo. 

"I know you have a lot of questions. Perhaps the biggest one is how will CNN change? The honest answer is that I don't know yet. David Zaslav has given me one simple directive: To ensure that CNN remains the global leader in NEWS as part of Warner Bros. Discovery," Licht continued in the memo that noticeably capitalized the word "news." 


Licht is not believed to have made any decisions yet and several current executives haven’t even personally met him as he stayed hands-off until officially starting the gig, except for the memo to staffers. 

Former Speaker of the Oklahoma House T.W. Shannon, a Republican who announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate this month, is among the skeptics who don’t know if Licht can restore CNN’s journalistic credibility. 

In October 2021, Shannon, who is Black, appeared on CNN’s long-struggling morning show, "New Day," where left-wing host Brianna Keiler, a White woman, scolded him over his support for Trump. Keiler repeatedly interrupted and spoke over Shannon, repeatedly insisting the former president didn’t condemn White supremacy.  

"I’ve never been more disrespected, or talked down to, and told why I was oppressed and why I should feel oppressed in America," Shannon told Fox News Digital. 

"I’ve never been oppressed by anybody," Shannon continued. "A lot of African-Americans refuse to go on that show, and I’m one of them. I would never go on her show again. CNN should be ashamed and embarrassed for allowing her to spew her hatred … It’s so targeted toward one particular group."

Because of the experience and other coverage he’s seen on the network, Shannon doesn’t know if CNN is capable of reestablishing its credibility as a nonpartisan news organization. Shannon doesn’t believe in cancel culture, and made it clear he doesn’t want anyone – including Keilar – to lose their job, but isn’t sure the network’s current lineup is capable of setting the partisanship aside. 

"I’m just skeptical that CNN can do it. They made their bread and butter basically trashing Donald Trump, trashing conservatives," he said. "I just don’t know they haven’t gone too far past the mark of no return, I don’t know that CNN can get back there, but I think the country would like to see it because I think they’ve done more to really poison the well."


As CNN staffers are in the dark about what changes new leadership will ultimately make, Puck’s Dylan Byers, a former CNN reporter himself, indicated last week that tensions are high among his old colleagues. 

"The organization’s corporate structure remains a mystery – even to the vast majority of executives and high-level staff who are poised to be promoted, demoted, or kindly shown the door in the days and weeks after Zaslav takes the helm," Byers wrote, citing sources inside WarnerMedia and Discovery. 

"In the absence of any clear information about the forthcoming org chart, current and future Zaslav lieutenants have adopted a game of high-anxiety telephone, frenzied tea-leaf reading, panic texting, and trading whatever gossip they can pick up from friends and colleagues," Byers added. "Some even ask me what I’ve heard, as if I work in WBD H.R." 

Licht declined comment when reached by Fox News Digital. CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Fox News’ Nikolas Lanum contributed to this report.